Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Was that David Cameron, or some left-wing lookalike?

This was a Cameron liberated both by his election victory and by having decided not to fight the next one

Donald Macintyre
Wednesday 07 October 2015 21:15 BST
Hooker or left-winger?: Cameron takes to the stage in Manchester
Hooker or left-winger?: Cameron takes to the stage in Manchester (Getty Images)

It was hard, after it was all over, to figure out which had been the greater culture shock: was it a Conservative Prime Minister angrily denouncing a litany of injustices against black workers, abused Muslims, gays in loving partnerships and underpaid women? Or the conference giving him a standing ovation when he rounded off the passage by declaring: “I want us to end discrimination and finish the fight for real equality in our country.”

This was less a rhetorical incursion into what David Cameron now likes to call the “common ground” than a full-scale occupation. It isn’t that often you hear any Tory politician, let alone an ideological child of Thatcher, declaring it “disgraceful” in 21st-century Britain that “people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call-backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names”.

But this was a Cameron liberated both by his election victory and by having decided not to fight the next one. Unworried now by rivals of his own, he evidently relished choosing who to single out for praise. Theresa May, from whose hawkish speech Cameron’s was wholly different in tone, got one studiedly cursory mention.

Even more humiliatingly the Home Secretary was obliged to join the standing ovation for Boris Johnson, engineered by Cameron’s lavish praise for his fellow Old Etonian’s overtly One-Nation stance on Tuesday – “That was a great speech Boris”.

There were huge holes. While he sounded as if he meant his promise of “an all-out assault on poverty” he wholly avoided the bitterly controversial cuts in tax credits. He was on more familiar Tory ground in his pledge to shut down madrasas filling children’s heads with “poison”.

There was nothing on funding for the urgently needed revolution in children’s care homes he seemed to presage after pointing out – again unusually for a Tory PM – that “children in care today are almost guaranteed to live in poverty” and that “70 per cent of prostitutes were once in care”.

There was calculation as well as moral force in all this of course. Having long been a tactical member of the school of Blair, he now seemed to be trying to seize the Blairite ideological ground he sees as having been vacated by Labour’s new leader.

He was even racier than Boris had been. Citing his own rugby-playing boyhood, he boasted: “I was a hooker – that’s a factual statement not a chapter in Michael Ashcroft’s book.”

Borderline dodgy in deriding The Joy of Tax, the masterwork of Jeremy Corbyn’s economic guru Richard Murphy, he said: he had brought it home “to show Samantha. It has got 64 positions and none of them work”.

He has set himself, not least on equality, the highest of bars by which to be judged in five years’ time.

Yet if political messages mean anything, some in mainstream Labour will be worried. The hyperbolic denunciation of Corbyn’s ideology which so thrilled his audience – “security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating” – sounded almost as if he sees him as a candidate for action under the imminent law against non-violent extremism.

Maybe he’s planning to shut down the Labour leader too. Some of Corbyn’s MPs – though not of course the party’s new members – probably wouldn’t mind that much if he did.

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